About Michelle Francl-Donnay

Michelle Francl-Donnay is the mother of two 20-something sons, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory, and a regular contributor to Philadelphia Archdiocese’s CatholicPhilly.com, where she writes about the joys and struggles of trying to live a contemplative life in the midst of everyday chaos. Michelle blogs at Quantum Theology.

One Word at a Time

The interior of the church* looked like it had been torn from the pages of Isaiah, “I lay your pavements in carnelians, your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.” The air was still, heavy with the heat of early summer and anticipation. I settled into my pew, tore my eyes from the distracting beauty that surrounded me to focus on […]

The Spiritual Exercises and the Importance of Looking Back

On a scorching day last summer, my sister-in-law took me on an architectural tour of her neighborhood in the hills of west Los Angeles, guiding us through a hundred years of local history and a few hundred feet elevation change. The stairway that took us down into the arroyo was stolidly utilitarian—bleached white concrete with steel banisters, gritty dirt underfoot, and a few tenacious weeds trying to establish a beachhead on the landings, 125 steps […]

Deep in the Darkness

The bumper sticker on the back of the beat-up green Mini Cooper my kids drive reads, “Thank you, dark!” under a bank of what most people would call spotlights, but which I’ve learned are more precisely termed Source Fours. My sons work the technical side of theater: building sets, managing rehearsals, and designing the lighting for shows. They balance precariously on tall ladders to wrestle those ungainly Source Fours into position on the battens. They […]

Living Frugally on Surprise

It’s been a tough few weeks, with just a few too many surprises disrupting the usually gentle rhythm of the semester. A grant deadline was pushed up by two weeks; my youngest son, a continent away, got quite ill. All the while my e-mail chirped like a nest of starving baby birds, messages popping up and demanding answers faster than I could stuff answers in them. Last Monday, in what appeared to be a lull […]

Wild Joy

In his Christmas message to the Curia, Pope Francis worried about those who suffer from “la malattia della faccia funerea”—the malady of the funeral face. Symptoms include brusqueness, arrogance, and a “sterile pessimism.” His suggested remedy? A dose of prayerful humor in the form of St. Thomas More’s plea for good digestion and calm life: “Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke […]

The Manila Envelope of Gratitude

On a recent Monday morning I climbed up the sun-drenched stairs to my office, my bag slung over my shoulder, my lunch balanced precariously on a stack of papers and books, the last notes of sung Morning Prayer dancing through my head. And then I saw it—a manila envelope peeking out of the bin by my door—and sun and song vanished with a small pop. A manila envelope that someone has taken the effort to […]

When St. Ignatius and John Legend Mash-up

For the last week, I’ve had a mash-up of St. Ignatius and R&B singer John Legend stuck in my ear. The Suscipe— “Whatsoever I have or hold, you have given me. I give it all back to you”¦”—fades into the spare percussive chords of Legend’s “All of Me”: “I’ll give my all to you. You’re my end and my beginning. Even when I lose I’m winning,” and finally winds back to Ignatius and John singing […]

God Surprises in Peas and Teas

“You know I don’t eat anything green,” insisted my youngest son, pushing his plate of mashed potatoes, meat loaf, and green peas away from him with a single finger. Arms crossed, six-year-old Chris glared at me across the dining room table. His older brother stuck a fork in the meat loaf, and startled, peered more closely at his plate and grinned. He, at least, was on to me. “You want to try them, trust me,” […]


“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” —John 1:14 One way the Word becomes flesh and moves among us is through the particular words we—with all our limitations of imagination and vocabulary—choose to grapple with the ineffable, the infinite, the immanent mystery that is God dwelling within us. In his interview of fall, 2013, Pope Francis reflected that the first word of his Latin motto, Miserando atque Eligendo, didn’t translate well into Italian or Spanish. […]

Why a Scientist Finds Ignatian Spirituality Compelling

About six months after I finished making the Spiritual Exercises, I was chatting with a couple of colleagues at the college where I teach. One asked me how my time away had been. When the other wondered what I’d been up to, I said I had taken four weeks to do some contemplative exercises at a retreat house in Massachusetts. “Oh, did you make the Spiritual Exercises?” “Ah…yes,” I stuttered in surprise. She had assigned […]

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